I used to never care about video game soundtracks. They call it background for a reason, and that’s exactly how it felt: a non-factor.
But then I heard “Wandering Flame” by Masashi Hamauzu.
Final Fantasy X was the first time I truly paid attention to a video game soundtrack. The characters enter an ethereal location called the Farplane. The clouds pass by and spirits dance in the air, and a song gently starts: a sweet symphonic sound with woodwind emphasis. It was the first time any video game music numbed me. I was lost in the Farplane like my characters, immersed in the beauty of the scene and the instruments that accompanied the mood. I didn’t want this moment to end. I didn’t want the music to end.
From then on I started paying closer attention to the music, and doing so elevated my gameplay to a different level. “Wandering Flame” really affected me in such a way that was both soothing and haunting. In context of the game, it brought into perspective each character’s goals while reflecting on their past. And then there was me, the player, doing the same exact thing and contemplating about my own life. At that instant, I realized the importance of video game music.
From upbeat sounds to softer tones, soundtracks create different emotions for the player. In my previous example, a song can be meditative. Now let’s take a quick look at the Super Mario Bros Theme in all its MIDI glory. It’s catchy, happy, and gets the people going. Sometimes all you need is to be excited, which is exactly what this song does. Another song that sets the mood is the Tekken Tag Tournament Intro. The song starts with a solo piano. The song appropriately picks up pace to prepare the player for the Iron Fist Tournament. Kazuya gets out of his chair, and the song turns into an upbeat electronic mix overlaying the black and white keys. By the time you’re hit with the start screen, you’re HYPED!
I appreciate any game music, from original soundtracks to pre-recorded songs like Grand Theft Auto V. The game’s Radio Los Santos channel appropriately chooses songs by California artists or chooses songs that give a California feel. Nothing feels better than cruising downtown and blasting “Smokin’ and Ridin’” in your convertible. Likewise, a player might listen to the Rebel Radio channel for country and rock when they’re driving through Sandy Shores. The point is that each song, no matter what kind of song, is in the game for a reason, and it helps make the game easier to understand.
Video game soundtracks appeal to the senses, adding to your interactive experience. Each song is composed carefully to tap into a different emotion. But the most important part of music? When our characters are silent, music continues to tell the story.